Posted by: AG | May 9, 2009

The Birth of Lithography

This is a bit of background about printing that I’ll include from time to time. In the early 1800’s, Alois Senefelder, a Bavarian actor and playwright, who simply wanted to publish his own work, created the new technology for printing that we still use today – lithography. Artists and printers from then on had the ability to produce posters, and other materials, quicker, cheaper, larger, and in greater quantities. They no longer had to use time-consuming hand engravings, etchings, woodcuts, or raised metal letters as invented by Gutenberg centuries earlier. The age of mass produced printed materials had begun.

The following is an excerpt from the preface to book, The Art of Lithography, written by Senefelder. In the preface, the publisher here conveys some of the excitement he personally felt about how this new invention could change modern civilization.  Anyone that recalls the early promotion of the desktop computer might see some resemblance to the promises of immediacy, storage, reproduction, and business utility of this new workplace invention. 

The public will naturally expect some account of the motives which induced me to lay before them the Course of Lithography, by Alois Senefelder, in an English dress.

In the first place, the Art itself appeared to me of the highest utility. By means of it the Painter, the Sculptor, and the Architect, are enabled to hand down to posterity as many facsimiles of their original Sketches as they please.

What a wide and beneficial field is here opened to the living artist, and to future generations! The Collector is enabled to multiply his originals, and the Amateur the fruits of his leisure hours. The Portrait Painter can gratify his Patron by supplying him with as many copies as he wishes to have of a successful likeness.

Men in office can obtain copies of the most important dispatches or documents, without a moment’s delay, and without the necessity of confiding in the fidelity of Secretaries or Clerks; the Merchant, and the Man of Business, to whom time is often of the most vital importance, can, and in an instant, preserve what copies they may want of their accounts or tables. In short, there is scarcely any department of art or business, in which Lithography will not be found of the most extensive utility.

R.Ackermann, Publisher
101, Strand, 1 March 1819.


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